Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Wills of God?

Two Wills of God?
Author: tartanarmy (3:31 am)

Two Wills of God? (Piper)

After briefly explaining the Arminian assumptions that they bring to verses such as 1 Timothy 2:4, I need to note how some Reformed theologians have attempted to reconcile this verse. One thinker, John Piper, whom I respect, has made an appeal to a theological principle that God has two basic wills: “what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.” (The Pleasure of God, Revised and Expanded, Appendix: “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved” p. 317).

This concept of “two wills” is nothing new of course in Reformed thinking, which Piper notes. And I do agree that it is essential to distinguish between different aspects of God’s will in his decrees, laws, character, etc. But there are important disagreements in how God’s will is understood in particular texts. It is paramount that we first allow the immediate context to have priority before we choose to interact with the theological principle of God’s “two wills.”

Concerning 1 Timothy 2:4, Piper says,

It is possible that careful exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:4 would lead us to believe that God’s willing “all men to be saved” does not refer to every individual person in the world, but rather to all sorts of persons, since the “all men” in verse 1 may well mean groups like “kings and all who are in authority” (v. 2).

This is my understanding of the text as well and the exegesis in which I will defend below. However, he continues by saying something uncharacteristic,

Nevertheless, the case for this limitation on God’s universal saving will has never been convincing to Arminians and likely will not become convincing, especially since Ezekiel 18:23, 18:32, and 33:11 are even less tolerant of restriction. Therefore, as a hearty believer in unconditional, individual election, I rejoice to affirm that God does not delight in the perishing of the impenitent and that he has compassion on all people. My aim is to show that this is not double talk. (p. 315).

A couple of comments are necessary. The impression that I am given is that though Piper has first admitted that for him 1 Timothy 2:4 has the possible meaning that God wants “all sorts of persons” and not every individual in the world to be saved, he says that this exegetical argument will not be “convincing to Arminians,” therefore he feels the need to appeal to another argument (i.e. “two wills”).

He then says, “Nevertheless, I will try to make a credible case that while the Arminian pillar texts [1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and Ezekiel 18:23] may indeed be pillars for universal love, they are not weapons against unconditional election.” But I have to disagree that these particular texts teach God’s universal love. Often it is Arminians who lump these three verses together to mean this; yet, all three of these verses are addressing different subjects. 1 Timothy 2:4 concerns God’s desire that those in authority are not excluded from his saving grace; 2 Peter 3:9 notes that God is not willing that his people perish; Ezekiel 18:23 informs us that God is not diabolical in that he takes pleasure in the death of the wicked in itself. None of these three texts are intended to teach a universal love or desire to save every single individual.

I agree with Piper that in many Biblical instances, “what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen,” but this conclusion should be justified by the priority of the context in question. And in the 1 Timothy 2:4 passage that will concern us in a moment, there is no basis to apply such a principle because the context and exegesis is sufficient to learn Paul’s meaning. Further, whether or not an argument is convincing to an Arminian is irrelevant. God is glorified when his truth is upheld, regardless of anyone being convinced of the truth, which I am sure Piper would agree. If Arminians cannot accept the exegesis of Scripture, there is no reason to concede to their interpretation and then try to appeal to something outside of the text in the hopes that they will affirm our theology. It is also important to note that the refusal to agree with Calvinistic interpretation is not so much an intellectual issue, as it is a matter of the heart.

Exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:4
The context has already been touched on above, but let me give it flesh. Arminians are fond of citing only part of verse 4, “who wants all men to be saved.” The default meaning for them is “every single individual on this planet.” I often hear them say, “all means all.” Well of course it does, but the question is “all of what?” This is where context must determine what “all” is referring to. So let us examine it by looking at the couple of verses that precede verse 4,

1. I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– 2. for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4. who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

We could work backwards from verse 4 to 1, or forward from verse 1 to 4; either way, it is all connected. But let us work backwards to see the flow of Paul’s thinking. Notice verse 4 begins with “who”; the antecedent is obviously “God” in verse 3, which begins by saying that there is something good and pleasing to our God. What is “This” that Paul is referring to? Here we need to view verses 1 and 2 together as a unit. Paul is urging Timothy the importance of prayers and other spiritual disciplines to be made for everyone. He is not telling Timothy to open up the Ephesian phonebook and start praying for the Alphas and work all the way through to the Omegas.

Rather, Paul gives the key statement by noting that the regal class of kings and the higher social class of those in authority should be included in prayer and other disciplines. Why does Paul urge this command? So we may, “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Is Paul simply urging them to pray that the authority ruling powers will be mollified? No! Paul has something more eternally hoped for than temporal appeasement from the oppression of rulers; he would like to see them be saved. Hence, Paul immediately follows up by saying, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Paul has in mind that God does not intend to save only one particular social class of people, but all social classes, including kings and those in authority. To read “all men” as “every single person in the world” is not warranted by the context and reveals a reading of one’s tradition and false notions into Paul’s important message to Timothy.

Arminians have wrongly interpreted this verse from a horizontal perspective. That is, they have read into this text the idea that all individuals in the world are in view. But Paul is giving us a vertical point of view of particular social classes. Therefore it is correct to say that Paul is speaking of all “kinds” or “sorts” of people, i.e., it is God’s desire that the social class of those in higher authority are not excluded from his saving grace.

In addition, if we are to grasp the full force of the meaning behind Paul’s statement “all men” in verse 4, it is necessary to briefly look at the historical context behind 1Timothy. Paul is writing Timothy who is in Ephesus and urging him to stay and fulfill teaching and ministerial duties (1 Tim. 1:2). Try to imagine yourself as a Jewish convert being commanded to pray for–not just kings and those in authority–but Gentile kings and those in authority. This command obviously affects Gentile and Jewish listeners differently, but for the latter it would have been much more shocking to be exhorted to pray for not just heathens, but heathen authorities! God wants “all men” to be saved, those of the social class of kings and those in authority, which included Gentile authorities.

Another point that requires attention are the couple of verses that follow verse 4. It reads, “5. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6. who gave himself as a ransom for all men– the testimony given in its proper time.”

In verse 5, Paul uses the important connecting word “For” to give us the causal reason for what came before it. Paul is introducing sacrificial language in which he ties together the mediation of Christ with his atonement. Once again, we find the phrase, “all men,” in which Christ gave himself as a ransom. It would be absurd to state that Christ gave himself as a ransom for every single person on this planet, for if he did, every individual would be saved, not to mention that God would have no basis to judge any man for his sins (Cf. Matt. 20:28). Incidentally, it would be silly to read the following verses that contain the phrase “all men” or “all” with it meaning “every single individual on the planet” (Col. 3:11, Gal. 3:28, Mark 13:13, Acts 21:28, Acts 22:15). Others could be cited, but this sampling demonstrates clearly that it is an exegetical fallacy to use the default meaning “every single individual on the planet” when approaching these texts. Context is king.

Finally, it is key that we recognize that Paul in verse 7 connects his Gentile mission to the second use of “all men” found in verse 6. This is often overlooked in many treatments of this text. Paul says in verse 7, “And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle– I am telling the truth, I am not lying– and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” In the clearest of terms, Paul is affiming that God has included the Gentiles in his plan of salvation by Christ giving himself as a ransom for “all men,” not just for the Jews; hence, the reason he immediately follows by saying, “And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle…to the Gentiles.” Given this context, we can begin to appreciate the ethnic dynamics of the Pauline gospel message.

In summary, Paul uses “all men” in verse 4 to refer to all social classes (in this case, inclusion of kings and those in authority); then in his second use of “all men” in verse 6 he refers to all ethnicity (in this case, inclusion of Gentiles). With these contextual and historical dimensions of the text, we can value why it is essential that we are careful not to import our 21st Century modern American cultural assumptions back into a 2,000-year-old Jewish letter. It is imperative that we listen to the historical context, as well as the immediate context to learn its intended meaning, rather than force our preconceived ideas of what we think the text should mean.

My friends, I ask you. Have you prayed for your authorities today? Or do you keep your prayers limited to only your social group? Have you prayed for other ethnic groups, or only your own? Heed the command of the apostle Paul and pray for them, for he says that this is good and pleasing to God our Savior.

Alan Kurschner

Thoughts for Young Men

Thoughts for Young Men - by J.C. Ryle
Warnings About Thoughtlessness and Contempt of Christianity

Another danger to young men is THOUGHTLESSNESS.

Not thinking is one simple reason why thousands of souls are thrown away forever into the Lake of Fire. Men will not consider, will not look ahead, will not look around them, will not reflect on the end of their present course, and the sure consequences of their present days, and wake up to find they are damned for a lack of thinking.

Young men, none are in more danger of this than yourselves. You know little of the perils around you, and so you are careless how you walk. You hate the trouble of serious, quiet thinking, and so you make wrong decisions and bring upon yourselves much sorrow. Young Esau had to have his brother’s stew and sold his birthright: he never thought how much he would want it in the future.

Young Simeon and Levi had to avenge the rape of their sister Dinah, and kill the Shechemites: they never considered how much trouble and anxiety they might bring on their father Jacob and his house. Job seems to have been especially afraid of this thoughtlessness among his children: it is written, that when they had a feast, and the “period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom” (Job 1:5).

Believe me, this world is not a world in which we can do well without thinking, and least of all do well in the matter of our souls. “Don’t think,” whispers Satan: he knows that an unconverted heart is like a dishonest businessman’s financial records, they will not bear close inspection. “Consider your ways,” says the Word of God–stop and think–consider and be wise.

The Spanish proverb says it well, “Hurry comes from the devil.” Just as men marry in a rush and then are miserable with their mate, so they make mistakes about their souls in a minute, and then suffer for it for years. Just as a bad servant does wrong, and then says, “I never gave it a thought,” so young men run into sin, and then say, “I did not think about it–it did not look like sin.” Not look like sin! What would you expect? Sin will not come to you, saying, “I am sin;” it would do little harm if it did. Sin always seems “good, and pleasant, and desirable,” at the time of commission. Oh, get wisdom, get discretion! Remember the words of Solomon: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” (Proverbs 4:26).

Some, I dare say, will object that I am asking what is unreasonable; that youth is not the time of life when people ought to be grave and thoughtful. I answer, there is little danger of their being too much so in the present day. Foolish talking and kidding, and joking, and excessive amusement, are only too common. I don’t argue the fact that there is a time for all things; but to be always flippant and joking is anything but wise. What does the wisest of men say–

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure” -Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

Matthew Henry tells a story of a great statesman in Queen Elizabeth’s time, who retired from public life in his latter days, and gave himself up to serious thought. His former merry companions came to visit him, and told him that he was becoming somber: “No,” he replied, “I am serious; for everyone around me is serious. God is serious in observing us–Christ is serious in interceding for us–the Spirit is serious in striving with us–the truths of God are serious–our spiritual enemies are serious in their endeavors to ruin us–poor lost sinners are serious in hell–and why then should you and I not be serious too?”

Oh, young men, learn to be thoughtful! Learn to consider what you are doing, and where you are going. Make time for calm reflection. Commune with your own heart, and be still. Remember my caution–Do not be lost merely for the lack of thought.

Another danger to young men is CONTEMPT OF CHRISTIANITY.

This also is one of your special dangers. I always observe that none pay so little outward respect to Christianity as young men. None take so little part in our services, when they are present at them–use Bibles so little–sing so little–listen to preaching so little. None are so generally absent at prayer meetings, Bible Studies, and all other weekday helps to the soul. Young men seem to think they do not need these things–they may be good for women and old men, but not for them. They appear ashamed of seeming to care about their souls: one would almost fancy they considered it a disgrace to go to heaven at all. And this is contempt of Christianity–it is the same spirit which made the young people of Bethel mock Elisha–and of this spirit I say to all young men, Beware! If it is worthwhile to be a Christian, it is worthwhile to be in earnest about it.

Contempt of holy things is the straight road to hell. Once a man begins to make a joke of any part of Christianity, then I am never surprised to hear that he has turned out to be an unbeliever.

Young men, have you really made up your minds to this? Have you clearly looked into the fires which are before you, if you persist in despising Christianity? Call to mind the words of David: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The fool, and no one but the fool has said it: but he has never proved it! Remember, if there ever was a book which has been proved true from beginning to end, by every kind of evidence, that book is the Bible.

It has defied the attacks of all enemies and faultfinders. “The Word of the Lord is flawless” (Psalm 18:30). It has been tested in every way, and the more it has been tested, the more evidently has it been shown to be the very handiwork of God Himself. What will you believe, if you do not believe the Bible? There is no choice but to believe something ridiculous and absurd. Depend on it, no man is so grossly naive as the man who denies the Bible to be the Word of God; and if it be the Word of God, be careful that you don’t despise it.

Men may tell you that there are difficulties in the Bible; things hard to understand. It would not be God’s book if there were not. And what if there are? You don’t despise medicines because you cannot explain all that your doctor does with them. But whatever men may say, the things needed for salvation are as clear as daylight.

Be very sure of this–people never reject the Bible because they cannot understand it. They understand it too well; they understand that it condemns their own behavior; they understand that it witnesses against their own sins, and summons them to judgment. They try to believe it is false and useless, because they don’t like to believe it is true. An evil lifestyle must always raise an objection to this book. Men question the truth of Christianity because they hate the practice of it.

Young men, when did God ever fail to keep His word? Never. What He has said, He has always done; and what He has spoken, He has always made good. Did He fail to keep His word at the flood? No. Did He fail with Sodom and Gomorrah? No. Did He fail with unbelieving Jerusalem? No. Has He failed with the Jews up to this very hour? No. He has never failed to fulfill His word. Take care, lest you be found among those who despise God’s Word.

Never laugh at Christianity. Never make a joke of sacred things. Never mock those who are serious and earnest about their souls. The time may come when you will count those happy whom you laughed at–a time when your laughter will be turned into sorrow, and your mockery into seriousness.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I would like to pass on publicly my condolences to the Falwell family for their loss at this time. May the God who brings all things to pass, including the day of our death, comfort them in their sorrow.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Free Offer vs Total Inability.

Free Offer vs Total Inability.
Author: tartanarmy (2:30 pm)

A free offer - Yes indeed.

Calvinistic Christians believe in the universal free offer of the Gospel while denying universal human ability to believe.

Calvinism upholds whatever the Bible teaches, affirming all doctrines according to the analogy of faith, not allowing one doctrine to be eclipsed by another. At the same time it denies that there are paradoxes in the Scripture; there are ineffable mysteries (for instance, the Trinity and the hypostatic union) which are beyond comprehension, but different truths are never in contradiction one to another, or in seeming contradiction.

With this in view, Calvinism believes in the universal free offer of the Gospel, because true Calvinists bow down to the mandate of their Lord and Christ, in his last commandment, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature..." (Mark 16:15).

Could language be more universal than this? And the gospel, according to the will of Christ, is to be proclaimed without "demanding" anything from the sinner, for even "repentance and forgiveness of sins" are to be preached "in His Name" (Luke 24).

The herald of the gospel is meant to explain several fundamental facts concerning salvation. He must proclaim Christ, who he is, and the nature of his accomplished salvation. His proclamation must include the facts:

1. That all have sinned (Romans 3:23);

2. That the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23);

3. And that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, by paying the penalty for sin by his death and resurrection (Romans 5:8).

Calvinists are not warranted to say indiscriminately to individuals, "Christ died for you." Christ himself never took this approach and neither did the Apostles. We do not find a single instance in Scripture of a Christian persuading an unbeliever, "God loves you, and Christ died for you," before he repented.

Indeed they proclaim Christ indiscriminately, to all sorts of people and to all sorts of individuals, telling them of God's invitation to respond to Christ personally in repentance and faith. "Come unto me..." (Matthew 11:28-30). There is certainly a need for personal response (John 1:11-12). The Holy Spirit and the church invite men to come to Christ (Revelation 22:17).

This they do knowing that not all are predestined unto eternal life, and yet they do it sincerely and without dissimulation, for the benefits of the gospel accrue to men if they repent and believe. The promises of God are conditioned upon faith, but he has nowhere and at no time promised to grant the gift of faith to all.

Predestination in no way hinders the zeal of the evangelist; rather the contrary. For as we know that God foreknows his own (though we have no idea who they might be) we can be sure that those (and only those) will finally believe and turn to Christ.

For their sake the church is willing to preach the gospel far and wide. "For many are called but few are chosen.” The call goes out to all and sundry, but the fact that many continue in unbelief is to be traced to their corruption and sinfulness. "For men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light..."

As Calvinists present Christ to a fallen world they do not do so believing that people have power within themselves to turn to Christ. They do so because they believe in the power of the Spirit to resurrect dead bones and make them live (Ezekiel.). Their faith is in the power of God, not in the goodness of men.

Men are unable to believe: "How can you believe who receive honour from one another and not the honour that comes from the only God?" (free translation). "Therefore I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (John 6:65). "A man can receive nothing, except it be given unto him from heaven" (John 3:27; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7).

Because of original sin and all it entails, men are unable and unwilling to believe; but God can make them willing to believe. For what is impossible for men is possible with God!

Thus these two doctrines - the universal offer of the gospel and human inability - fit together and are faithfully preached by Calvinists without reserve.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A great gulf fixed between us.

A great gulf fixed between us.
Author: tartanarmy (11:28 pm)

Steve Gregg recently responded to me and other Calvinists with the following statement.
I really would appreciate some comments upon this!



P.S. If you have indeed read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" lately, and can honestly say that the portrayal of God there reminds you of anything Jesus would preach to the sinners of His day, I think we really do have a great gulf fixed between us and our Calvinist brethren--one that it is amazing to see crossed by anyone, going either direction! (Steve Gregg)

The Immeasurable Greatness Of The Love Of God

The Immeasurable Greatness Of The Love Of God
Author: tartanarmy (9:58 am)

A fine sermon preached by Robert Reymond on John 3:16.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tartan counters Steve. (5)

However, I think this reveals a lack of imagination, and of the ability to engage in nuanced thinking. Such thinking, I believe, is called for in the study of the scriptures.

This is the kind of thinking that leads to Open theism Steve.
I have heard them say pretty much exactly the same thing when attempting to disagree with God's decree.

Are you becoming an Open Theist Steve, or at the very least are you leaning towards their hermeneutics? You seem to like quoting Clark Pinnock fairly often.

You did not reply to any of the scriptures I quoted in my last replies.

Personally, I am of the opinion, that if "nuanced thinking" requires one to misinterpret scripture, then it is really another term for philosophical speculation, the thing you charge Calvinists of indulging in at some base level of their presuppositions.

What do you understand about the philosophical theory about libertarian free will?

Are you aware that it is a theory debated by the philosophers?

Why would you "assume" this philosophy as a base theory from which to interpret scripture?

11 Reasons to reject libertarian free will.

The denial of libertarian freedom has always had many supporters. The idea of making causal determinism the focal point of discussions of free will is modern in origin, and some philosophers think that the modern framing of the issue is confused. Philosophers who deny libertarian freedom may affirm a type of free will compatible with determinism, or they may instead simply accept the consequence that human beings lack free will.

The other incompatibilist position is to affirm libertarian free will along with the principle of alternate possibilities (premise 9), and to deny the possibility of infallible foreknowledge. This position has recently become well-known in the so-called "open God" theory (1994). These theorists reject divine timelessness and immutability, along with infallible foreknowledge, arguing that not only should foreknowledge be rejected because of its fatalist consequences, the view of a God who takes risks is more faithful to Scripture than the classical notion of an essentially omniscient and foreknowing deity.

Stanford University Link


Steve Gregg counters. (4)


I am proud of your daughter's spiritual perception, as you are. And while I think you said it somewhat humorously, I would not agree that this particular comment makes her "more of a Calvinist." I have never been a Calvinist, but have always believed in God's purpose being infused in every circumstance that comes my way. There is nothing in my life in which I do not see (in Sproul's terminology) "the invisible hand" of God.

This is, I believe, a common misconception (mischaracterization?) of the imagined distinction between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. I have heard Calvinists say, often, that Arminainism does not allow for God to control the fate of individuals or history in general. This represents just as great a misunderstanding of Arminianism and we are accused of misunderstanding the implications of Calvinism.

If the Calvinist believes that his system of meticulously providential decrees is the only paradigm that allows God to rule the universe, then I can understand why he thinks he must cling loyally to a Reformed position. However, I think this reveals a lack of imagination, and of the ability to engage in nuanced thinking. Such thinking, I believe, is called for in the study of the scriptures.

Anyway, congratulations on having transmitted a confidient faith in God to your daughter!
In Jesus,

Short counter response to Steve Gregg. (3)

The conclusion I am reaching is that the Calvinist position on the sovereignty of God, the "decrees" of God, the concept of "libertarian free will" and the contrast between "monergism" and "synergism" are philosophical arguments that appeal to people of a certain philosophical persuasion, but which do not arise from any biblical text.

Steve, with all due respect, I do not know what use there is in stating that in any way shape or form.
It is like throwing a big cloud of smoke our way, hoping it will end all the argument.

I am reaching the conclusion that Non Calvinists think they are free from the very thing they charge the Calvinist, and by simply just throwing out the accusation of philosophical speculation, think to obtain the biblical higher ground.

This man, without an agenda to defend his side of any controversy, will doubtless be in the best position to understand the teaching of scripture on these matters.

Are you that man?
I never got that impression when listening to your series on Calvinism. What I heard was a man with a system or a grid, that sees the scriptures through the lens of assumed libertarian free will.
I heard a man interpret scripture from a free will foundation, therefore coming to false conclusions as such a faulty base presupposition would lead to.

When I read in scripture,

Jam 1:18 Of His own will He brought us forth with the Word of truth, for us to be a certain firstfruit of His creatures.

I do not have to run to my presupposition about “free will”, and try to make such a passage fit, no, the passage plainly tells me that God’s will was the reason I became a Christian.


1Co 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Again, my beliefs come directly from scripture. And as you think us Calvinists are predisposed in some way to philosophical speculations, how on earth do you escape such an assertion yourself!

You reject “regeneration precedes faith”. How on earth can you exegete just these two scriptures without turning them on their head , without bringing in your own philosophical speculations about libertarian freedom?


Steve Gregg's follow up response. (2)


Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough response to my inquiry. Unfortunately, I will not have the time to write so thorough an answer to you, because I have much else calling for my time, and because I did put in the time to address many of the points in the early years of this forum and the things I wrote are still posted here.

I might say, without meaning to disparage you, that your answers did not clarify the issues I was asking about, any better than have the notable Calvinists I have read on these subjects previously. This is probably not your fault, because I am beginning to feel that Calvinists will never do any better than they have done in the past at showing the exegetical or philosophical validity of the system.

You suggest that I am interacting only with the weakest of the Calvinist arguments and am neglecting the best ones. I honestly was not aware of this. Which ones are the best ones? Are they the ones you gave in your post? If not, why did you not give them there? I so, then I think you and I will simply disagree about the strength of certain arguments. That's all right, isn't it?

The conclusion I am reaching is that the Calvinist position on the sovereignty of God, the "decrees" of God, the concept of "libertarian free will" and the contrast between "monergism" and "synergism" are philosophical arguments that appeal to people of a certain philosophical persuasion, but which do not arise from any biblical text. I realize that this must sound very "amazing" to you to hear this, but that is because you have learned to see these doctrines in texts that many intelligent believers (not reprobates) simply cannot discover in the words (or the sentences) appealed to by the Calvinist.

I state this only as an observation, not a value judgment. In a debate between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist, it may appear that both are simply working from their own lists of "proof texts", and each has learned "pat answers" to the texts on the other guy's list. I myself usually resort to dealing with proof texts in a formal debate, because this is the approach that best fits into the time-frame and structure of a debate.

However, in my judgment, the choice between the two paradigms does not reduce to a treatment of the lists of proof texts, primarily. At least, with me it never has. I am of the opinion that the intelligent, plain (Christian) man, reading the Bible repeatedly, cover-to-cover, unaware that there are lists of proof texts for him to comb out of the narrative, will get a particular view of God and of His plans and purposes as He reveals Himself in every story, in every command, in every threat, and every promise. In reading the whole, the various "proof texts" for both sides will be encountered in their respective contexts, and I believe that that man will have little difficulty understanding them all quite naturally as fitting in to the general truth that is conveyed in those passages that are not proof texts. This man, without an agenda to defend his side of any controversy, will doubtless be in the best position to understand the teaching of scripture on these matters.

You and I will, no doubt, disagree on this point, but I am of the opinion that that man will not naturally reach any conclusions from the scriptures that salvation is "monergistic" or that God's dealings with man involve meticulous providence, o0r that God's is the only free will in the universe. If you think that he would reach these conclusions, then we will have to leave this discussion with different conclusions. I am not sure why doing so should be unsatisfying for either of us, since we have both (presumably) made intelligent, honest inquiry into the question, and have therefore left the matter in the hands of God to bring us to the conclusions he wishes for us to reach. I have done this, but I alone can speak for myself about my motives and my diligence. I do not know about yours, so I will make the charitable judgment that you have done the same thing. If this is the case, there is no need for us to continue arguing. there?
In Jesus,

Monday, May 07, 2007

My latest and first direct response to Steve Gregg. (1)

This is addressed to all our Calvinist friends on the forum.

I am interested in some clarification. Mark (tartanarmy) accused Mike (MDH) of misrepresentation.

Yes I did, and for good reason Steve.
Mike stated, and I quote

Did not God decree everything that would ever happen, and am I not totally depraved because of this?

Now, it is quite obvious to me, that any standard work on Calvinism including the readily available confessions and creeds answer this misrepresentation and if Mike wants to be semi-reasonable he might avail himself the effort to rightly represent what we believe.

I mean, Mike could have said,

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 3 on God’s Decree

In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen.

Canons of Dort Article 6: God's Eternal Decision

Calvinists have also often accused me of not understanding, or of misrepresenting, their views.

You have, and even recently admitted as much regarding the whole Supra/Infra thing, and yet you used that misrepresentation to smear RC Sproul, which I think you did not repent of. He had it right, you had it wrong, and yet the whole tone of your point against Sproul in your lecture about Calvinism at that particular point was based upon your own ignorance of that subject.

Now, I can assure you that neither Mike nor I have any interest in misrepresentation (I know him quite well, and can vouch for his integruty, intelligence and humility).

As a teacher, I hold you to a higher standard, and would at the very least, hope that you would rebuke others who misrepresent, regardless of what side they are on. All the vouching in the world makes no difference when one side is misrepresented, willingly or unwillingly, even while claiming that truth is the motive. That being so, then so much more effort and being careful is required, right?

Our interest is in the truth, and the best way for us to assess whether or not Calvinism is true would not be to deliberately misrepresent it, and then to reject the misrepresentation of our own making. How could such a policy advance our grasp of truth?

I agree, but for some reason, Calvinists do find this to be true far too often. I have been discussing these matters for years and have yet to come across even one Non Calvinist who would and certainly should put in the effort to actually understand where we as Calvinists are coming from. It happens all the time sadly!

Here's my problem. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I am not more dull than the average. Over the past twenty years, I have read the Calvinists with great interest, and often with great sympathy, in order to give them a fair hearing, to assess the truth-value of their statements and the quality of their exegesis. I really want to know if there is something they understand that I do not.

That is admirable, and I take my hat off to you Steve. That is why, I am rather hoping for a full on debate series between you and James. I believe both of you will make the effort, preparation and time to spend on this very important issue, especially for the benefit of the Church and the Saints.
I am talking about a fully recorded live debate in person, at a Church somewhere, Over 5 nights, the whole thing recorded and distributed by DVD to the Churches.

I have no denominational loyalties, so I have no reason to have a closed mind in my research.

Me too. When denominationalism becomes more important than scriptural, biblical, Christian truth, then part of the battle is well and truly lost.

Today, when I represent a Calvinist point, I am doing my best to represent it exactly as I have drawn it from the Calvinist writers themselves. Often, I am quoting them verbatim. Yet, in critiquing their exegesis or their logic, I am invariably told that I am not understanding, or am misrepresenting their views.

Actually, the problem happens when you use your own “logic”. Now hear me out on this.
Are you following their logic, or are you taking what they say, then immediately switch to your own defence against what they are saying?

I mean, there is nothing wrong with arguing against a position by finding fault in your opponents logic, or what you think are the logical implications, but it becomes an issue when you “first” do that before accurately stating and interacting with what they say.

You need to interact with their position, which means taking their best arguments, accurately representing those arguments, showing that you understand them, and then refute the arguments using scripture, exegesis and your own method.

So my question is, am I simply dull, or are Calvinists poor communicators?

I do not know for sure, as I do not know who you have communicated with. I don’t think you are dull at all, just too quick to find the weakest arguments to respond to rather than the best arguments that are out there. You simply are too quick at arguing against Calvinism, rather than sitting back, taking the best arguments in, and then interacting with them.

Most of the Arminians who are contributing posts here have some intelligence and some acquaintance with Calvinism--even if only from conversations with "street-Calvinists" (as opposed to scholarly proponents). If these street-Calvinists consistently misrepresent their own views, then, again, their teachers must not be adept in transmitting their beliefs.

Whatever a street Calvinist is or even a street Arminian is besides the point. I am sure there are people on both sides who really ought to remain silent more often, but be that as it may, let us “here and now” and in this upcoming debate, do our best to grasp the other sides position as best as we can.
We can’t do any better than that.

I suspect, however, (since I have read their teachers), that most of the street-Calvinists are speaking exactly as the most learned Calvinists do. Why is it, when we repeat their own words back to them, we are accused of misrepresentation?

That is not true Steve. My above quote from your friend Mike is just one example.

There are myriad’s of examples in the writings of Dave Hunt recently, Geisler, Half the SBC every time they address the subject, The Caners at Liberty University and your own statements addressed by Dr White recently on his Dividing line programme, although he would not put you in the same light as some of these others, as you seem to be far less emotive than some of these guys.

Why, for example, do we keep thinking that God being "the first efficient cause" of sin, means that this is essentially the same as being the "author" of sin?

That is a very good question and a quick microwave answer does the subject no justice.

I will give a short answer but it will lead to more discussion I am certain, but that is ok.

Some reformed men have no issue saying that God is the author of sin, but are quick to add the caveat that God, in bringing into existence sin, is not the active participant in sin, in that He is not bringing about sin for sins sake, but rather in order to have a good and holy purpose in bringing it about.

He creates originally perfect people with freedom from sin, but not freedom from God.

There is no law in scripture that condemns God for bringing sin into His creation is there?
I mean, God is God, and we have no right to bring in our sense of ethics (no matter how much it seems to be noble and no matter how much it seems to be vindicating even God’s holiness) into the equation of this important subject called Theodicy. To scripture we go to investigate these matters, and scripture is not silent upon this subject.

Why does it seem to us that God "ordaining all things" means that everything (including our depravity) is ordained by God? What are we missing?

If that is all you were stating then fine, at least we have a starting point for discussion, but that is decidedly not what transpires. The Non Calvinist immediately jumps into this great big defence, that attempts to rescue God from some horrible charge that the Calvinist has never even made!

In fact, the Calvinist has not even said anything at this point that entails the logical implications made by the Non Calvinist. It happens every time.

So to answer your question, what is missing is patience.
Patience to grasp what the Calvinist is saying when he states that God ordains everything, including our depravity etc.

We need to slow down and really think the implications (and there are many for sure!) rather than go off half cocked with an answer, or even worse, inflame the situation so that dialogue ceases before the conversation gets anywhere productive.
I am trying here to answer you Steve, as best I can.

For example, Mark wrote:

"No Calvinist teaches that we are depraved merely because God decrees everything! How does such a misrepresentation facilitate intelligent reasonable discussion on these issues?"

Hopefully we would all believe that half a truth is not the whole truth, therefore a lie, right?
If we leave out some ingredients, our bread shall not rise, so to speak.

When a Non Calvinist repeats the above comment in that particular way, 9 out of 10 times the Non Calvinist assumes that God has merely made man to sin and then presents this idea that big bad god has exerted his big bad sovereign will on poor old robotic man without a real conscious will with desires and the ability to choose, with zero reference to purpose, fallen nature nor secondary means, whereby God is establishing a plan with actions and unfolding events leading to His plan in history.

No, I have never got the impression the Non Calvinist is meaning any of that.

But we thought Calvinism teaches that the fall of man was sovereignly decreed by God before man existed (regardless which "lapsarian" position one takes, "the decree of the fall" is always in the mix).

Just bear in mind that the lapsarian ideas are pretty much an argument in semantics IMHO, but all views present man as a fallen creature, but I digress.

Calvinism, no, Orthodox Christianity has always taught that God decreed the fall!
I know of no Arminian (in the truest sense of the term) who denies that God decreed the fall of man.
This is perhaps where other Calvinists are discerning your own particular bent at this point, to your orthodoxy and a leaning to Open Theism for example. Not that I am calling you an Open Theist, not yet anyway!

How on earth does man possess an innate ability to do anything apart from God’s power?

Does not scripture clearly teach that in Christ all things consist and are held together, and does not scripture teach that God works out all things according to His will and purpose?

Calvin even went as far as to say that bread itself would not nourish us, if it were not for the very power of God working upon both the bread and our bodies receiving the nutrients from it.

That may seem strange to some, but for those who believe in a God who is God over everything, there is no dilemma here or some strange idea or human philosophy at work, and certainly there is no biblical reason to fight against such a teaching.
It all depends on what presupposition one works from.

I have never read a biblical defence from a Non Calvinist writer that can account for not only how God knows the future, but how the future can even be certain, apart from God’s control thereof.

Does God just throw the dice and everything just ends up the way it does, and that is the answer for reality as we know it? Where is God involved in any of this?

Even if we just accept “bare permission” from God, and all that “so called” libertarian free will entails, are you answering anything from your own position?

If God merely has foreknowledge of future events, did He create knowing exactly what would transpire in all of History, including the very damnation of all those in Hell?, and if so, how can you attack Calvinists for saying that God has a plan and purpose for the very same end result that you have according to the same outworking of History?

In other words, God purposed to create a world and to put unfortunate humans in it who, by His certain decree, would inevitably fall--leading to the depravity of the human race, and the damnation of most.

This is what I mean. You say “unfortunate” humans as if that reflects the biblical anthropology.

God originally created humans upright, perfect, sinless but certainly not free from God, hence capable of sinning.

God has the only “free” will in the universe.

For reasons best known to Himself, He decided that in His plan for humanity, man would fall into sin, and He would save some (a huge number btw!) and pass by others, according to His own reasons. These are the reprobate, who perish in “their” sins, which “they” love and live and move and have “their” being, hating God at every turn, preferring the desires of “their” own wicked hearts.

Does that mean that God made them evil?
Certainly not, but He did create them with the absolute guarantee that they would fall and become captives to the nature we now possess through disobedience.

As long as you maintain, as scripture does, that Man in every point, pre and post fall, has a real will that functions and acts according to it’s nature, and is not some kind of robot, as is so often ignorantly suggested, you will not stray too far from understanding these issues.

And of course the most important thing is that God is sovereign.

He is God and can do as He pleases, and if that leads you to consider the idea that man is “unfortunate” in any sense, then so be it.

God Himself has stated “that” in certain regards, it would have been best for certain men never to have been born at all, but God decided otherwise didn’t He?

Even according to your own view, He created John Doe, knowing full well John Doe will end up in Hell, even before John Doe was born nor did any good or evil, right?
He is the Potter and we are His clay. The clay does not tell the Potter what to do.

We do not say this as an attempt to parody Calvinism, but merely to take at face value what it sounds like the words used by Calvinists actually mean.

Yes, words do mean something, but they form sentences, which form whole statements, and it is honest and proper to get a grasp of the big idea rather than attack the words before they have been grasped in contexts.

If all people who reject Calvinism were unregenerates, or were Christians of an inferior intellect to those who embrace it, or were biblically illiterate, or did not know Greek, or could not frame a logical syllogism, or were agenda-driven to dethrone the sovereign God, etc.--- then it would be fair to say that Arminians are to be blamed for their failure to understand the Calvinist concepts.

That is an interesting statement Steve, but at the end of the day, none of that counts for a hill of beans.

Salvation is the work of God upon a sinner. It is a “revelation” by God to “the sinner”. It is monergistic not synergistic, and therefore things like intelligence, bias, knowledge of Greek etc, are irrelevant.

God can reveal truth to a baby in the womb with brain damage or the smartest intellect in the world through His Word faithfully preached. The other things are merely helpful tools to aide us.

I find that Non Calvinists actually place way more weight on things like philosophy, human reason etc whether or not they are formally trained in it or not.
The whole concept of “libertarian” free will is a major case in point.

The idea that man is free from constraint, especially that of God, is not taught in scripture, but is part of every philosophy there ever has been, including ancient and modern thought.

Calvinists are not guilty of espousing libertarian philosophy. If scripture taught it, we would teach it, but such a concept of human freedom cannot be found within the pages of scripture, hence it is projected there by every person who has been traditionally taught to accept it.

You are a smart man Steve. It is a bit like Post Modernism.
Who today, even in the Church, cannot escape it’s influence?

It is very pervasive and we need to be on guard against it.
All we are saying is “Libertarian freedom” is of the same mould.

We are born Arminians in that sense! From suckling on our mothers breasts as babies, we breath in libertarian freedom from the get go.
It was the very thing that God used in the undoing of our first parents ironically!
The notion that we can operate without constraints or be influenced by them.

But since this is not the case, it may be:
a) that Calvinists (unlike the writers of the scriptures themselves) have few spokesmen who can enunciate their position in a manner understandable to people of average intelligence; or

b) that Calvinism is not the clear teaching of scripture.

Or perhaps another option is,

(c) All of the reasons, maybe even one, from what I have thus far said in this reply to you.
My immediate last couple of points regarding human anthropology above spring to mind.

I have never understood, for example, why Calvinists often explain the reason these doctrines were not understood before Augustine as being that the first ten generations of Christians did not have the time to think long and hard about the subject (that is, they were concentrating on solving Christological heresies, and had not the versatility to consider the topics of salvation and grace in the same centuries).

What is your point exactly?

It is not as if we do not take our position right back to scripture itself, is it?
Do you think we just want to have history on our side? That is a very far second for us next to scripture.

The whole issue of the reformation was what? Well, you would know the whole thing hinged upon the nature of Man and his will. That was the issue to Luther and the reformers, and it is the issue today as well.

If we were doing all of this again today, the vast majority of evangelicals (Non Calvinists) would side with Rome (Luther- Protestant “Bondage of the will” vs Erasmus- Roman Catholic “Freedom of the will”) and such must be stated clearly, for many Non Calvinists perhaps are ignorant of this history and perhaps just think the whole reformation was about indulgences and smacking nails of protest upon a certain German Church door.

Regarding the early Church- ten generations idea you mention, from what we know of way back then, there were huge issues to be dealt with, including persecution to state the obvious.

You sure don’t find many so called believers today denying the Trinity or claiming Jesus was created or some such thing. Those who do are by far in the vast minority in professing Christendom.

I could easily imagine faithful Christians today, if exposed to such heresies as these, being side-tracked for good reason into attacking such things, don’t you?
Then again, maybe not today! I just remembered what the evangelical landscape is like these days.

This does not ascribe to the church fathers of the first four centuries much intelligence, since, in my mere 35 years of adult ministry, I have had more than adequate time to put together, in my own theology, a Christology sufficient to refute an Arian, as well as to wrestle with, systemetize and analyze every bit of scriptural data pertaining to many other theological questions (e.g., soteriology, eschatology, demonology, pneumatology, ecclesiology). I am not claiming that I know as much as anyone does on all these topics, nor even that my views must be the right ones. All I am saying is that a single lifetime affords more than enough opportunity for a man to read through the scriptures fifty or more times, and to draw comprehensive systems of understanding on many issues.

Fair enough, but rather subjective don’t you think?
I mean, those guys back then did what they did with whatever came their way, both good and bad mostly bad. Where scripture was followed, the Church triumphed, when it was trodden underfoot, the Church suffered. Nothing has essentially changed in principal.

I do often wonder how we today would fare if transported back to that time.
The fact we can boast in our own studies achieved today, maybe smacks of just how easy we might actually have it, compared to those early Christians.

What was wrong with those guys living in the first four centuries?

Nothing as far as I know. Maybe they were trying to just live long enough to leave this earth with a decent testimony and not bow the knee to baal and every other onslaught at every side or maybe they just embraced error after error.
It is interesting to me that even Jacob Arminius called Calvin's works more edifying than the Early Church Fathers!

Why were the church fathers so unutterably dull and lacking in versatility as to be unable to (theologically) walk down the street and chew gum at the same time? In my judgment, they were smarter than most of us are, and they read biblical Greek as their first language (one area that I have not even begun to master).

No argument from me there, except to suggest that speaking the language was perhaps something to do with actually learning the language in a culture where such was necessary.

Why were there ten whole generations during which these biblical scholars described what we would today recognize as Calvinism,

The argument supporting the doctrines of grace as outlined by Calvinism is not one which finds great support or unity in the writings of the early church prior to Augustine, but then again neither does any system of soteriology find great agreement or support in those writings.

First and foremost, Calvinists believe that the Bible itself teaches the doctrines of grace, and of course the Bible predates all the church fathers including those ten whole generations.

Prior to Augustine, there was very little written about the doctrines of salvation that did not simply quote or paraphrase the Bible itself.

How one interprets these writings depends almost entirely on how one interprets the biblical texts they quote.

The early church was generally more concerned with bigger issues as you mentioned, such as: the nature of God (which they finally determined to be Trinitarian); the nature Christ (whom they finally determined to be fully man and fully God); gnosticism; surviving and lapsing under persecution; church government; etc.

At the same time, there is also no proof that anyone held to any other well-defined system of salvation. We may guess that such systems did exist, but that they simply did not make it into the preserved writings.

and referred to it as Manicheianism?

What? Manichaeanism was a warmed-over version of the old Gnosticism of Marcion which taught that the visible world was created by an evil Demiurge, not the true God.

In fact, the accusation of Manichaeanism is one that the Catholics appear to have used universally to smear all dissenting and evangelical sects in the Middle Ages, including the Waldenses.
An Examination of the Doctrines of this Medieval Sect By Thomas Williamson)

And are you suggesting this Catholic argument is yet again valid to use against Calvinists today?

I do not claim that the fathers got everything right, but it certainly seems weak to suggest that the reason they rejected Calvinism for so long is that they didn't have enough time to sort it out (they even had better manuscripts of the New Testament than we have).

Man, having better manuscripts ought to solve it, right? I think that a wee bit naive given the insight given of man in Holy Writ!

I do not see the early Church as being against a robust doctrine of God’s utter sovereignty nor do I read them as if they were embracing the heresies of Palagianism which was to come, nor the state of affairs at the necessary Council of Orange down the track in the 6th century.

We are not trying to mis-characterize Calvinism. However, if Calvinism is true, but the majority of Christians throughout history (from the second century onward) have been unable to characterize it properly, then it does not seem to be very clearly presented, either by the authors of scripture or by the Calvinist proponents.

I do not pretend to have the ability to convince you otherwise Steve, but I can urge you to at the very least try a wee bit better at interacting with what Calvinists do say, i.e. actually interact with their best arguments.

Take them apart and present the right exegesis, just make sure it is exegesis though, that is all I ask.

I read reformed writers who do exactly that with your views all the time.
Interact with Calvin, Warfield or Owen or Turettin, Hodge, Witsius, Edwards, Rutherford, Beza, Luther, Haldane, Boston, Bunyan, Gill, Knox, Toplady, Newton, Spurgeon, Murray, Lloyd Jones, Pink, Piper, White, to name but a few that come immediate to my mind.

P.S. If you have indeed read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" lately, and can honestly say that the portrayal of God there reminds you of anything Jesus would preach to the sinners of His day, I think we really do have a great gulf fixed between us and our Calvinist brethren--one that it is amazing to see crossed by anyone, going either direction!



Note, I must thank Mike (part of the subject concerning this post with Steve Gregg) for his recent apology to me for his misrepresentation of Calvinism. It is an encouragement to be mentioned.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Two wills, well meant offer, John Piper and an Arminian thrown in for free!

We are all Heretics here!

So says Jerry Falwell and Liberty University... Mark

The temperature is rising!

It is simply incredible what is happening over at The Narrow Path Forums regarding the possible debate between James White and Steve Gregg.

The insults and false slander going on is nothing short of sinister.
I think the tactic might be to subvert the debate!

Like that has not happened before, right?

I have had to restrain myself, temporarily of course!


click here
and here

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Hatred of Christianity.

The Hatred of Christianity.
Author: tartanarmy (3:31 am)

The following story tells of recent persecution in Turkey. Some of the details are quite shocking so I warn about that.

click here

I also recommend the following Sermon from Dr James White, which addresses Christian persecution and the above story.
It may not be as far away as we think.